Fresh out of prison, Danny Ocean sets up a dream robbery, roping in ten other experts to help. His object: the vaults of the three biggest Las Vegas casinos. Along with a cool $150 million, he hopes to win back ex-wife Tess, who just happens to be dating a big casino owner...
Let's be honest. The original Ocean's Eleven wasn't a five-star movie. But it was certainly a memorable one. Vegas and the entire Rat Pack on screen for the first time made it an event picture. Soderbergh's film is just as much of an event and, more importantly, it has taken the essence of what was good about the first film and given it a new millennium polish, with a cast who don't buckle under the weight of expectation.
Bar a few in-jokes for the old school fans, no prior knowledge is necessary. This is entertainment of the effortless order. Soderbergh's pacing leaves scant room for fidgeting, and the story spills out frame by frame so that plots can twist just seconds faster than you can cotton on.
Clooney's generous headlining performance gives plenty of scope to showcase the rest of the talent, and no-one here is lacking. Few directors have made their stars look as high-wattage. Garcia is just bad enough to want to destroy, and Roberts elusive enough to be the natural object of affection. Watch for the scene where she crosses the casino floor switching her allegiance from one man to another - that's a definite movie star scene. Damon relishes his role out of the limelight as the new kid on the block, while his same-age team-mates, Casey Affleck and Scott Caan, go for laughs.
Don Cheadle does a cockney accent to rival Dick Van Dyke, but somehow gets away with it, and Elliott Gould and Carl Reiner do some grade A scene-stealing without unbalancing the movie. Yet, special mention has to go to Brad Pitt. Loitering in the background, generally snacking, he delivers a quiet performance that suggests the hidden strengths beyond his pretty boy looks. This is one movie where wearing a suit well does him no harm at all.
But if your tastes are of a less superficial nature, there's Soderbergh's trademark cutting technique to hitch the movie up a notch, stunt work (particularly courtesy of grease-man Shaobo Qin) that can't be faked, and a heist that deserves the build-up.
This is a movie that plays to all demographics without feeling like a by-numbers production. To berate it for being shallow is to miss the point. This isn't the seamy Las Vegas, where the house always wins. It's a film that's as well-constructed and glamorously shiny as the monoliths that now dominate The Strip. The good guys are crooks? So what! If only all crooks were this nice. No guns, no gangster cliche swear-a-thon. This is a movie that plays to fantasies, and few do it with such relish.
With neither a badly-pressed suit nor a redundant scene in sight, Ocean's Eleven is as slick as they come - and that's a compliment rather than a criticism. Joyfully entertaining and effortlessly re-watchable.